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Three Weeks Into New Year, Parking Meter Rates Still Frozen

A Chicago parking pay and display box (Credit: CBS)

A Chicago parking pay and display box (Credit: CBS)

roberts250 Bob Roberts
Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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Updated 01/23/13 – 4:31 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Parking meter rates were supposed to increase Jan. 1 in Chicago, but so far, not one meter has been changed to the new rates, which would make downtown meter parking the most expensive in North America.

A city spokesman told WBBM Newsradio that LAZ Parking, which handles street operations for Chicago Parking Meters LLC, has until the end of February to implement the increase, but confirmed that it had not begun. Depending on how long it takes for the company to implement the new rates, drivers could get a reprieve of as long as 60 days.

That is a sharp contrast with the past three years, when new rates began to appear within days on downtown meters, and were completed citywide within several weeks.

Why the parking meter company has yet to implement the higher rates remained a mystery on Wednesday. A spokesperson for LAZ Parking would only say the company is on track to impose the increases by the March 1 deadline.

Mike Brockway, the self-styled “Parking Ticket Geek” – who writes “The Expired Meter” blog that helps Chicago residents with transportation problems – broke the story for Dnainfo.com.

He said city drivers have saved about $900,000 so far because the higher rates haven’t gone into effect.

Neither Mayor Rahm Emanuel nor local motorists were feeling the least bit grateful in the delay of the rate hike. It’s tough to feel like you’re getting a break when already spending $5.75 an hour to park in the Loop.

“I wish, if it was up to me, we’d have a 60-year reprieve, not just 60 days,” the mayor said Wednesday.

Asked if she felt like she was getting a bargain paying that much, compared to the $6.50 per hour rate that should be in place by now, motorist Lauren Woods said “not at all.”

Ian Mitchell was much more sarcastic in his assessment.

“Oh, they’re so nice to us. That’s good. I’m so happy,” he said.

Rates are supposed go to $6.50 an hour downtown. Meters in the South Loop, West Loop, River North and Gold Coast are to go from $3.50 to $4 an hour, while other meters in the city will increase from $1.75 to $2.

The city spokesman said the delay is not linked to the mayor’s ongoing dispute with Chicago Parking Meters over billing. The consortium has the right, under its contract with the city, to bill the city for revenue that is lost when street repairs, utility work, or street festivals block metered spaces. Emanuel has refused to pay more than $60 million in such bills.

“This is a bad contract. It was wrong for the city, and it was wrongly designed,” Emanuel said.

Brockway said he thinks the mayor might be trying to get the parking meter firm to agree to a compromise on the contract.

“It really seems like he’s trying to publicly negotiate some sort of settlement; either for the $60 million-plus bill, and/or the full deal,” Brockway said.

The delay comes at a cost to the consortium. Every day that the changeover fails to begin, motorists are saving a collective $29,000 in revenue.